When I began this week, I stood firmly on the agree side when the question was asked, “Is social media ruining childhood?” Of course, social media is ruining childhood! How couldn’t it be? Why do I not see children gathering outside? Playing hopscotch? Skipping? Shooting hoops? Riding bikes with their friends? Using their imagination to build forts? Because, social media controls their lives.
They no longer need to go find their friends, play these games, or use their imagination the way I did growing up, because they have a device that connects them to their friends, their device has the games, and their device allows them to be creative in other ways. Is this entirely a bad thing? No, I don’t think it is.
After the debate this week, I had many thoughts on the topic. I thought both sides of the debate did a fantastic job: Melinda, Allysa and Lori has some excellent points that made me nod my head and solidified my idea that social media is ruining childhood. They discussed the rise in anxiety, and cyber-bullying online, as well as the pressure kids feel to fit in, and how many of these problems are because children ignore the age restrictions, and parents are left in the dark – oblivious, or conscious of these decisions.
The disagree side is what started to sway me: Erin, Brooke and Daniel made some strong arguments towards the positives of social media, including the idea that it strengthens children’s relationships, creates a community, and they become more aware than children of past generations.
After both of these arguments, my original ideas were up in the air. I think the biggest difficulty for me was that I was stuck on the nostalgic idea of what my own childhood was like and that kids today were missing out! There was so much good before technology took over and I remember creating my own fun in the backyard, riding my bike all over town to meet up with friends, the new addition of MSN to my teenage years, and no social media. I grew up in the nineties and I am in awe at how fast things changed. I think I was stuck in the idea that I had the best childhood, so of course social media is ruining now-a-days children’s childhood because they are having such different experiences than I did 20 years ago.
Once I got past the idea that children today aren’t missing out; their childhood is just different with different opportunities and different challenges. I think yes, there are a lot of potential risks of over-using social media, and the risk of addiction for teens is very real. I had a couple of grade nines almost cry when I took their phones away for one day for a health experiment. Cyber-bullying is also a very real concern, and it is something I deal with daily in a high school setting. Unfortunately, cyber-bullying is worse than just bullying because it can follow a child home, and follows them every time they log online. This infograph does an excellent job of explaining just how prominent cyber-bullying is, and the different ways it is visible to teens.
However, as the disagree team pointed out, the online world can also be a great place for community development and support. When I am teaching about mental health, I always suggest using online resources to find supports if students are struggling but after Monday, it clicked. Students develop their own communities and support groups online for isolation, bullying, gender inequality, racism, etc. and this is awesome!! Another point the disagree team made was that students are able to explore their interests and ideas online, making connections to other students all over the world who are like-minded individuals and all of a sudden, they aren’t alone anymore and I think that is fantastic. Of course, there are risks associated with this idea, like pedophiles profiling and “cat-fishing” young children into meeting up or earning trust to have children partake in risky behavior, however, this is where education is key. Parents also need to be aware of the behavior of their children and not let them loose online. Teach them and discuss social media etiquette.
The article, The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families had some great tips specifically for pediatricians to help parents talk to their children about social media:
- Advise parents to talk to their children and adolescents about their online use and the specific issues that today’s online kids face.
- Advise parents to work on their own participation gap in their homes by becoming better educated about the many technologies their youngsters are using.
- Discuss with families the need for a family online-use plan that involves regular family meetings to discuss online topics and checks of privacy settings and online profiles for inappropriate posts. The emphasis should be on citizenship and healthy behavior and not punitive action, unless truly warranted.
- Discuss with parents the importance of supervising online activities via active participation and communication, as opposed to remote monitoring with a “net-nanny” program (software used to monitor the Internet in the absence of parents)
The real goal is to help students develop a positive online identity and understand the consequences of posting risky photos or videos online. Just because you do something when you are young, means it will follow you online for the rest of your lives. They need to understand that the things they say and do on social media is permanent and can harm their futures. I think this is also why, as teachers, we need to teach healthy digital citizenship to children from a young age, so that when they reach adolescence, they are better equipped to navigate this online world.
On top of this, students are more aware of their country, and the world they live in. Having instant connection to social media and news, things spread fast and they are on top of it. Often students are advocating for causes, researching bias of opinion and using social networking sites to trend important issues like #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #prayfordouglas, or even something like #humboldtstrong. These kids have power at their finger tips, and once they realize it, things could start happening for our future, and our planet. The Learning Network says, “We’ve become the most tolerant and conscious generation to date, with 76 percent of Gen Zers concerned about humanity’s influence on the Earth and 60 percent hoping the job they choose impacts the world.” I think a large part of this is due to social media, in creating an open dialogue for a lot of these issues, like climate change, racism, gender equality, political campaigns, mental health awareness, and so many more. People are able to connect with others online, and start discussions that matter, whereas in the past, we have been limited to the beliefs of the people around us physically.
I think Melinda had a great point, when she said in her blog, “There needs to be a balance, kids need to be kids and play outside, rough house, interact, etc. They don’t need to have 24/7 screen time, they need to be active and imaginative.” And to sum up, I think social media can be a great outlet for children, but it is not the only outlet. Like Melinda said, kids still need to be kids, explore, and develop in the real world, be active and engaged, but I think there are a lot of great things we can expect from this generation as they become more tolerant, and engaged in the issues occurring in our world.